The resignation of Barry Sanders at the helm remains an NFL mystery

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Barry Sanders’ NFL retirement in 1999 still stings. Jim Brown and Michael Jordan at least turned to new pursuits (Acting art and in MJ’s case, baseball for a while) and their legacies are secure. Sanders was 31 years old, without a ring and about a season away from becoming one the all-time leader in the NFL when he fled to London to escape the press, Fax a farewell letter to his hometown newspaper on the eve of Detroit Lions training camp. “Until yesterday,” one supporter fumed at the time, “OJ was my least favorite runner, but he only stabbed two people in the back.”

It took time for Detroit to hit rock bottom Time And again and other star players leaving the NFL in their prime – Calvin Johnson, if nothing else – so fans can appreciate Sanders’ bold call. It is the motivation for his early retirement that has long been so mysterious. A new Prime Video documentary The title “Bye Bye Barry” is about more clarity, but in the end it is understanding.

Of course, there were bound to be challenges in building a film project around Sanders, one of the most understated superstars you’ll ever meet. He wasn’t so much wary of the media as embarrassed by his celebrity status and eager to disappear as soon as the spotlight became too intense. “Some things are just unnecessary,” Sanders said after fainting on ESPN was selected third overall in the 1989 NFL Draft – between Deion Sanders at No. 5 and top pick Troy Aikman. “I’m not trying to downplay what you guys are doing, but you have to respect my judgment and the way I am as a person.”

Since then, Sanders, 55, has become something of a cuddly figure that is not quite so seriously nowadays. But “Bye Bye” doesn’t exactly prepare him for the kind of deep introspection that Jordan and Brown display in their documents – a real disadvantage for an NFL Films team that rarely has to worry about access. (Disclosure: I was a college intern at NFL Films during the 2001 season.) Over the course of the documentary’s 90-minute running time, the producers interrogate Sanders under the lights of the Fox Theater, fly him and his sons back to London – do it but not. I can’t really get much out of him.

Worse, directors Paul Monusky, Micaela Powers and Angela Torma had a winning script in place in Sanders’ 2003 autobiography, Now You See Me – which deals with his regrets, his loneliness and his true feelings towards his father, William . “I sometimes wondered if I would ever be the son he was supposed to be,” he writes. “One of the worst moments came right before the NFL draft deadline when Daddy cornered me and berated me for even considering staying at Oklahoma State for my senior year.”

Without much deeper introspection into the titular theme, “Bye Bye” falls back on NFL Films’ familiar bag of tricks of up-and-coming musical numbers, celebrity interviews (Jeff Daniels, Eminem) and archival reels – by default, the star of the show. Poetry in motion is a term used to the point of exhaustion in sports — but in Sanders’ case, it actually applies. Even now, he’s unlike anything the game has ever seen – a 5-foot-10 Houdini with his own knack for moving the chains, an escape artist with a knack for evading would-be tacklers before turning on the jets . (Think Lamar Jackson on his best day against the Cincinnati Bengals – only more (Unstoppable on the run.) Sanders’ talent for running circles behind the line of scrimmage and running out 30 yards just to gain three won him over the king of negative carriersto.

Like the brilliant painter or composer, Sanders was much better at letting the work speak than at explaining the lines. It’s no coincidence that Bye Bye drops Thanksgiving week, a football holiday that Sanders defined with his ritual carving of my cursed Chicago Bears. (“I hope he doesn’t leave before we can give him the turkey leg,” Fox’s John Madden, Thanksgiving host extraordinairecracked as the clock ticked to a Three-touchdown masterpiece in 1997 That moved Sanders to second place on the all-time rushing list.) In Sanders’ day – when a running back was a cornerstone of the team, not Cannon fodder – He was far superior to the others.

At the end of the 1998 season, Sanders was just 1,458 yards away from breaking the all-time rushing record – easy work for a man who was barely a year away from finishing third Run more than 2,000 meters in one season. “You see the love for the game in Barry’s eyes, his performance and the way he carries himself off the field,” said Walter Payton, the Bears god who knocked Brown off the NFL’s Mount Rush-More. “Even though you cheered on Barry’s team, you always respected him as a player.”

In retrospect, Sanders’ retirement shouldn’t have surprised anyone, considering how often he had refused to step into the spotlight in the past – without grabbing a high school rushing record or the enormous attention he received. when he won the 1988 Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma State. “Finally someone won the prize [based] “Solely based on sheer skill,” Aikman said after UCLA’s charm offense failed to get the better of the quarterback.

“I thought we would be competing for many more years,” Cowboys star Emmitt Smith says in an exclusive Bye Bye, recalling Dallas’ stunning loss to Detroit in the divisional round of the 1992 playoffs. The fact that Smith ended up surpassing Payton in total rushing yards never quite sat well with people outside of Dallas. Sanders worked on some really lazy Lions teams for a decade to put up his numbers, while Smith had five more years and a slew of All-Star teammates to help him. In “Bye Bye,” even Sanders laments how much further he could have gotten with a stronger supporting cast — but stops short of subjecting the Lions’ management to another round of scathing criticism from his book. As time passes and emotions cool, Sanders’ resignation looks more like the ultimate gambit, sacrificing temporary fame for his longer-term well-being.

Regarding the question: What did Sanders think?, the film happily leaves the task of shedding light on this matter to longtime blockers Kevin Glover, Lomas Brown, Herman Moore and legendary Lions coach Wayne Fontes. Her narrative is about how she and other key teammates make their way to greener pastures two more The Lions were forced into disability retirement, which hit Sanders the hardest. (The artificial turf field inside the rapidly deteriorating Pontiac Silverdome But I suspect that Sanders also had uneasy feelings about the prospect of surpassing Payton in the same year that Payton announced an irreversible decision Bile duct cancer – which killed him three months after Sanders announced his resignation. If only someone had informed Sanders about all of this in the document, especially now that he is no longer hiding from anyone.

Bye Bye is part of a larger NFL strategy is expanding its TV dominance into the streaming world and captivating the many younger viewers there – ironic, considering that NFL Films practically invented the behind-the-scenes sports documentary. But standing out in a new era where documentaries are expected to be as compelling as scripted dramas will take more than the typical effort that has captivated die-hard NFL fans watching on ESPN Classic. This documentary doesn’t just seem like a facsimile of one of those old PR jobs – the last thing Sanders would want. The entire production feels a bit rushed and heated.

Sanders has never been a greater target for the difficult questions that arose after his sudden resignation. It’s a shame that Bye Bye lets Houdini disappear under the same old shroud.

Chris Estrada

Chris Estrada is a 24ssports U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Chris Estrada joined 24ssports in 2021 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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